Hair and Worship

Written by Father Bill 26 Comments

Yes, the two are connected, as one quickly learns from Paul’s exhortation on the veiling of women in 1 Corinthians 11.  The issue pops up via Britney Spear’s recent escapades regarding her own hair.

This is really glorious, dontcha think?The Bayly  Brothers Blog takes note of Britney Spears’ shaving her head, as reported at the BBC news site.   In that story, the reporter asks “So why is hair – particularly long hair – viewed as such a defining part of a woman and inextricably linked to femininity?” 

In this question, Pr. Bayly sees an opportunity for evangelism, and cites Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.  And in the comments to their blog, a fellow named Kevin asks:

Can anyone explain to me what verse 10 means? I find this entire passage confusing (the wording is clear, the rationale not quite so clear), however, verse 10 seems to pop up out of no where.

So you don’t have to look it up, verse 10 is where Paul says a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head “because of the angels.”  Kevin is asking what the angels have to do with anything in this passage.  Here’s my answer:

The Larger Context of the Veil

Verse 10 doesn’t make much sense, nor any other isolated verse in this passage, unless it’s taken all together.  The overall context for these verses is the same as for the entire section of the first Corinthian epistle beginning at chapter 11 and running through chapter 14 – viz. the parish assembled for worship. 

Previously, it is been various problems/issues/questions dealing with life among the body generally.  Chapter 11 begins a section of the epistle dealing with disorders during the assembly for worship.  Chapter 11 itself treats two disorders of deportment: the veil and disorder at the Eucharist.

Glory and Shame, Worship and Culture

Within vv. 2-16, Paul treats “glory” and “shame” as they apply to the traditions Paul has delivered to the Corinthians concerning their worship, particularly the veil.  It’s not just that the women were ignoring to veil during worship, their doing so was particularly shameful in that context.

Some think that the women were throwing off local Greco-Roman proprieties, but this is not true.  A wealth of literary, statuary, numismatic, and visual representations (frescos and other paintings in homes, temples, and the public square) demonstrate that a covering on women was not an expectation of women generally in Greco-Roman culture. 

On the other hand, it was an expectation of women in Oriental culture, including the Jews, whose women were recognizable in North Africa in the second century because of their veiling in public.  

The point:  When Paul delivered the custom to the Corinthians, and to the rest of the Churches (vs. 16), he was introducing a practice that was counter-cultural to Greco-Roman practices.  The Corinthian women were not throwing off their own culture, they were following it in opposition to what Paul had taught them to do during worship.

Why did Paul prescribe the veil? 

Two reasons.

Reason No. One arises from the purpose of the assembly, namely to give glory to God.  In that context, the humans are not only giving glory, they are someone else’s glory.   Man is God’s glory, woman is man’s glory, and (this is key to avoid confusion), the woman’s long hair is her glory.  In the assembly there are three glories present:  God’s, man’s, and the woman’s.

This woman displays a glory that Spears discarded.But, if the purpose of the assembly is to give glory only to God, then God’s glory should be unveiled, and others’ glory should be veiled.  The veil on the woman’s head covers two glories.  She veils herself (because she is man’s glory), and simultaneously it veils her long hair (because it is her own glory).  The man remains unveiled, because he alone is God’s glory, and so it is appropriate for him to remain unveiled. 

But, humans are not the only ones present when assembly is gathered for worship, and that brings us to reason No. Two:  also present are angels, probably great numbers of them if we are to take our cue from those places in Scripture which describe their multitude in these kinds of settings.  And, while they are unseen by the human worshipers, they nevertheless are part of the assembly and they participate in its purpose.

“Because of the angels” points back, at a minimum, to what Isaiah saw in the Temple and described in Isaiah 6.  Like Elisha’s servant on the mountain, Isaiah’s capacity for visual perception was so altered that he saw what was objectively there, but ordinarily obscured from human sight.  Similarly, when we worship in our assemblies, angels assemble along with us. 

At the end of the preface to the Prayer of Consecration in the Anglican Eucharist, the priest acknowledges the presence of the angels in the assembly.  At this point in the liturgy, the priest sings “Thus with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and singing …”  at which point the congregation joins him to sing the Sanctus et Benedictus: 

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and earth are fully of Thy glory
Glory be to Thee O Lord Most High
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest!

And, so, to herald their Lord at the beginning of the Eucharist, the saints sing the song of the Seraphim, and the portion of Psalm 118 that  greeted their Lord as He entered Jerusalem as the Son of David.  They are songs that have been heard by the Lord for centuries, sung to him on earth and in heaven, and in heaven by angels long before they were sung by the sons of men in His earthly dwelling places.

And so, it is “meet and right,” as the old Anglicans would put it, for the women to have a mark of authority on her head, because of the angels, creatures whose worship we join,  singing along with them in our worship, whose angelic sensibilities of propriety and rank are shocked in a worship service where any glory but  God’s is improperly on display. 

A couple of things in this passage are clearly matters about which Paul was not addressing himself directly. He did not write this passage to explain what bearing the angels have on the matter of veiling women in worship. For that matter, he did not write the passage in order to expound the meaning of “man, the glory of God,” or “woman, the glory of man.” Angels, man as God’s glory, woman as man’s glory, long hair as the woman’s glory – none of these are the subject of Paul’s exposition. Instead, he brings these concepts into the discussion, which is – to put it as simply as possible – to urge the Corinthian women to veil during worship.

Most teachers in the Church for the past 2000 years point back to Isaiah 6 primarily to validate the idea that the angels are present with men during God’s worship. Many commentators think that Paul also mentions the angels because they are marked by an almost militaristic ordering by rank and hierarchy. This was certainly a familiar idea in the popular angelology of that period of the Jews, and Paul himself seems to endorse this idea in principle by his mentioning of “principalities and powers” six different places in his epistles, including the mention of “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” in Col. 1:16. “Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers” are categories of angelic ranks and hierarchies.

The point: the honoring of rank is a Big Deal Indeed among angels. If, therefore, they are present in our worship, it scandalizes them when man’s glory is displayed unveiled in an assembly where it is the assembly’s purpose to give glory to God.


26 Comments

  1. Michael   |  Thursday, 22 February 2007 at 9:11 pm

    > [Fr. Bill:] “Because of the angels” points back, at a minimum, to what Isaiah saw in the Temple and described in Isaiah 6. …Similarly, when we worship in our assemblies, angels assemble along with us. …If, therefore, they are present in our worship, it scandalizes them when man’s glory is displayed unveiled in an assembly where it is the assembly’s purpose to give glory to God.

    I would also add that there is the *example* of the angels — beautiful creatures who nevertheless cover themselves in God’s presence:

    “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” Isaiah 6:2

    > [From the BBC News article:] “So why is hair – particularly long hair – viewed as such a defining part of a woman and inextricably linked to femininity?”

    And why are they called Beauty Parlors when said glory is chopped off?

    [From the BBC News article:] “It [hair] is part of us, much more intimate than things like clothes. If you cut it away, you are cutting away a bit of yourself. Whatever we do with it is very much part of our identity.”

    Same can be said for beards, of course.

    [From the BBC News article:] “Zoologist Desmond Morris suggests that women traditionally have long hair because their ancestors, the aquatic apes, developed long hair to give their babies something to hang on to.”

    Oh, so apes “developed” long hair so babies could grab it? Pretty clever of them! But I’ve never seen a female ape with flowing tresses. I guess they got tired of taking care of it and willed it to grow short again…? Some pretty odd ideas in that article.

    It was amazing to me how most people left comments in favor of female skin heads. Many don’t think Britney is having a crisis. Forget Britney’s breakdown, the responses show a sicker cultural breakdown, if you ask me.

    –Michael

  2. Kamilla   |  Friday, 23 February 2007 at 7:32 pm

    First I’ve ever heard of aquatic apes?!?!!!

    I feel nothing but sadness for Britney Spears. It’s too bad her parents didn’t care more for her than to let her grow up as they have.

    Kamilla

  3. Michael   |  Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 9:46 am

    > First I’ve ever heard of aquatic apes?!?!!!

    They must be the ones with the webbed feet…? That quote was the silliest reasoning for why women traditionally have long hair I ever heard of. Imagine her baby hanging on by it! The only remote connection to babies is that it would be attractive to men. It is adornment, glory.

    > The thing that has most intrigued me since I grew my hair out a bit is the compliments I get from other women. Never expected that.

    That is good, especially since hair grows slow. People are much less likely to throw out insincere compliments regarding a very gradual change. Just don’t cut it, because you will also get compliments the next Sunday at church! It drives me nuts – women get boy-cuts and their sisters “oh and ah” over it. I think women tend to compliment one another whenever they see an overnight change in apearance out of politeness. They know the person in question is a bit uneasy, perhaps, wanting to know if they look okay after taking the big step, so they encourage them.

    All that to say, it is something else when they compliment it when it is a slow process — more genuine, I think. And like I said before, the men undoubtedly notice, too. Long hair is more “captivating,” if I may say so.

    –Michael

  4. Michael   |  Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 9:54 am

    > I feel nothing but sadness for Britney Spears. It’s too bad her parents didn’t care more for her than to let her grow up as they have.

    [I meant to comment on this, too.] Didn’t her mother push her into all this child modeling stuff? It’s worse than neglect — she was constantly shoved this direction as a kid. What did they expect to happen?

    Did you read the comments to that BBC article? Many people though there was nothing wrong with her (and the haircut was a perfectly reasonable and attractive choice).

  5. Annamarie   |  Thursday, 05 April 2007 at 8:58 am

    Excellent summation of this passage of Scripture. I’ll link right away!

  6. Veiled Glory » Blog Archive » How to greet one another in the Lord   |  Thursday, 05 April 2007 at 9:00 am

    […] Oh, another great discovery, Faith and Gender Blog.  […]

  7. Michael   |  Friday, 13 April 2007 at 12:56 pm

    > The prophets, patriarchs, even Jesus Himself have been, throughout history, depicted with long hair. [–Seamus, under “Tuning forks, Iconic Men, and Masculine Resonance”]

    Hello Seamus,

    I moved this to the “Hair and Worship” thread, as that is the thing being discussed presently. As I said over yonder [“If you expected women to have long(er) hair in relation to what you feel is fine for men, that would be one thing — I’d agree with you!”]. However, you’re missing half the story with such one-sided comments about historical “long-haired” males (besides the fact that the ‘pictures’ aren’t authentic depictions) — namely: how relative their hair length was in comparison with the women of the same era.

    Since you are a connoisseur of the cinema, I’ll try this approach: Did you see Fr. Bill’s use of Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” picture under the “Tuning forks, Iconic Men, and Masculine Resonance” thread, right under the one of “Superman”? Someone today might be tempted to say that William Wallace’s hair was quite long. (I would be so tempted myself, since it goes a little below the shoulders, which is beyond what I call medium). No, when you put him in context, it isn’t that long. This is long:

    http://www.geocities.com/yello_armadillo/CCC/braveheart.jpg

    Hers is also is a natural covering, I might add, and looks more like a veil.

    > I am six foot two, broad-shouldered, strong-limbed, fast and agile, with very virile long hair (rivalling Aragorn’s) and an impressive beard.

    That’s fine. Speaking of Aragorn, the same perspective is gained, as with William Wallace, when we put his shoulder-length hair next to that of the women of his day, like Arwen:
    http://lotr.darthscreencapture.com/ROTK/D/21/image/aragorn_539.jpg
    http://www.theargonath.cc/pictures/aragornarwen/aragornarwen30.jpg

    [I must say, there is no excuse for the effeminate Legolas, however.]

    Today we have a situation where many/most? women have hair shorter than William Wallace in “Braveheart,” which means any man with hair like his has longer hair than most women. That is not an enviable position to be in, if you ask me, when it comes to maintaining biblical gender distinctiveness, nor does using Billy Graham or Washington as an example lessen the shocking effect (shame?) of it. The beard helps, thankfully! And the ones who excuse the long hair don’t mind in the least that their hair is longer than most women’s, nor do they say women should stop hacking off their hair (“glory”). They’ll even say that Britney Spears’ haircut is fine with them, attractive, whatever. They apparently are okay having everyone do what is right in their own eyes, despite the resulting unisex chaos (which is exacerbated by women choosing to dress an a manly fashion so often as well).

    So, when you factor in the women of their day, Billy Graham, Jesus, or George Washington didn’t really have hair all that long, so they are poor excuses for doing the same today, when Christian women can be considered normal in very short cuts, which throws a bad light on men with hair many times longer than they.

    Here’s a typical example from an endless number that could be found everywhere, of what I mean about how men can’t get away with long(er) hair as they used to:

    http://www.geocities.com/yello_armadillo/CCC/AshleyJudd.jpg

    We are so fouled up, we think this is feminine, and perfectly fine for Christian women, and if she had a husband with hair like Aragorn, that’d be peachy, too, because God doesn’t really care anything about hair or gender distinctiveness! (Or homosexuality, either, so I also hear from modern society.)

    –Michael

  8. A Few Links for Tuesday, 2007/09/18 at RickBeckman.org   |  Tuesday, 18 September 2007 at 4:36 pm

    […] Hair and Worship from the Faith and Gender blog provides a look at why Paul goes on about hair in 1 Corinthians 11, with an emphasis on the reasons thereof (particularly the “because of the angels” clause). […]

  9. Kyla   |  Thursday, 25 October 2007 at 1:49 pm

    I have found this most helpful. My husband recently asked me to cover my head in church, and I have been trying to completely grasp the reasoning. I knew it was a symbol of submission, but it never made all that much sense – especially the part about the angels. Thank you for this post!

    I do have a question: does this only apply to formal church gatherings, or every time I pray?

  10. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 25 October 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Welcome to the ranks, Kyla. I just have to be careful that my daughter doesn’t steal my head covering:-).

  11. Fr. Bill   |  Saturday, 27 October 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Hi, Kyla,

    Paul, of course, specifies that she should be covered while praying or prophesying (whatever you construe that to mean). One might infer from this that she could be uncovered while not doing either activity.

    Two things might expand this a bit: (1) the context of this discussion within the overall organization of 1 Corinthians, and (2) a somewhat larger sense of the notion of “prayer.” Let’s take each in turn.

    In 1 Corinthians, Paul has dealt with various matters of contention within the Corinthian Church, evidently having been queried about some of them (maybe all of them). Chapter 11, however, begins a section running all the way through chapter 14, in which the context of Paul’s discussion/exhortations is narrowed down to the Corinthian church as it is gathered for congregational worship. Yes, Paul makes excursi into specific subject areas, but overall, the congregation gathered for worship is the frame for all of these.

    Second, Paul could be using “prayer” and “praying” as a synonym for “congregational worship.” This sense of the words for prayer and praying is natural and common, as prayer is a major component of corporate worship. Hence the notice in Acts 2:42 we read: “42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” That last phrase is usually rendered in English as “and to prayer.” However, Luke specifies that it is “to the prayers” that the early Christians tended to, and in combination with “the breaking of bread” as a euphamism for the Communion, the last two phrases nicely summarize the ancient division of Christian worship into the sections it still has within churches that follow Western catholic (note the small “c”) worship.

    By the way, it is this sense of “prayer” one finds in The Book of Common Prayer. This manual of worship for the English Reformation contains prayers in the narrow sense, but in the larger sense, it shapes the Church’s worship, or — as the English would have expressed it then and now — the Church’s prayer. Prayer, in this usage, corresponds to what we mean by using the word “worship.”

    If these two considerations have weight, they would indicate that the proper context for women covering would be when the congregation is assembled for worship. Charles Ryrie, who first pointed out the exegetical underpinnings of the covering to us in a theology class, suggested that women cover when Christians are gathered in a setting where celebration of the Eucharist is appropriate, whether or not it is actually observed or not.

    If one looks beyond the pages of the New Testament to Mother Church (i.e. what have women been doing with this passage for the past two millennia), then the practice seems to have been for women to cover outside of Church as well. Like other articles of clothing (e.g. the dress, skirt), the covering seems to have become a staple of feminine attire within Christendom. In this case, it would be the effect of Christian culture as it developed over the centuries, rather than Apostolic mandate. This custom is very much alive and well in some parts of contemporary Christendom, including Protestant Christendom. In my father-in-law’s cradle culture in Illinois, the women of the Swiss Protestant group he was born into still cover their heads in public. It’s a small “cap” sort of thing, pinned to the hair. On Sunday, they substitute a different cover for Church — a band about 15 inches long, and two inches wide, draped over the head from side to side. It’s often embroidered, or sports a lace edging. And, clearly, its use is deliberately “artificial” — deployed to make a visible and concrete compliance with a New Testament directive.

    In my family, my wife and daughters have tended to use a small doily affair, often the same color as the hair, so that it is not exactly visible. On the other hand, in our parish, I have noticed that the little and teen-aged girls tend to go for very obvious shawls/scarfs that they drape around their head and shoulders, so the effect is similar to a hood. This was their choice, not their mothers’. It looks very much to me as if they’re saying “We’re women!” On the other hand, for very festive occasions (Easter, Christmas, major feast days), I’ve noticed the moms joining their daughters in using larger, more enveloping scarves or shawls.

  12. Sue   |  Saturday, 27 October 2007 at 10:11 pm

    Kyla,

    It is incredibly important that you understand that a head covering is not a symbol of submission but of authority. Please read this verse in the King James version which is a good literal translation.

    The Greek only says for a woman to have authority on her head, no more. This could be a symbol, of course, but only of her own authority, or permission. This word is also used by Paul to express liberty.

    There is no case in Greek where a word which means authority also means submission, you can be sure of that.

    Read the King James version and be free, Kyla.

  13. Fr. Bill   |  Sunday, 28 October 2007 at 5:24 am

    Sue,

    Of course, you are exactly wrong here, and you show once more that you have an agenda to force upon the text, and not only that, but to force it upon the express statements of the text.

    Did you notice that in my reply to Kyla directly above, I never once mentioned the word “authority?” Indeed, everything Paul says about the mere practice of covering, can be accounted for by resorting to the concept of “glory” and by tracing Paul’s teaching that two of the three glories mentioned in these verses should be covered.

    But, then Paul brings in the word authority at the very place where he is pointing to something on the woman’s head. “Authority” here is an abstract noun, of course. It does not admit of being placed on anyone’s head in a concrete sense. And, so, translators have inevitably left it untranslated as the KJV does (“she should have authority on her head”); or, they have provided an interpretive gloss, to avoid the jarring sense of the KJV in English (“symbol of authority”).

    Either way, there remains the interpretive question: Whose authority is on her head? The answer, of course, is provided by Paul in the introductory verses of this passage: ” Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. ”

    So, for Paul — and, according to Paul, for the angels — the issue of authority — rank, if you will — is also a factor in the public deportment of the saints when gathered for worship. It is the headship of the man, not the woman, which is symbolized in the cover. Additionally, of course, the cover on the woman covers the man’s glory and her own glory, so that God’s glory (the uncovered man) is highlighted in the group that is gathered to glorify God.

    Again, note that your contra-Biblical agenda is pressed onto a passage that not only does not support it, but which sets forth the contrary idea!

    You also urge Kyla to be free! Was Kyla or any other woman not free if she declines to cover? Does her adoption of a cover make her not free? Are men not free because Paul says they must not be covered?

    Again, notice how you introduce an issue here — the woman’s freedom or deprivation of freedom — when it is utterly alien to the passage.

  14. Sue   |  Sunday, 28 October 2007 at 11:13 am

    Bill,

    I was responding to Kyla, who said,

    “I knew it was a symbol of submission,”

    You know it says “authority” but she didn’t. You know that it may refer to a headpiece, and that would be a crown. A crown is a symbol of authority, of one’s own authority. But you force the Greek. You are overly interpretive and suggest that it is someone else’s authority. Do you have the mind of Christ? Do you rewrite the language of the scriptures. This is a hard scripture, and so you give it a meaning that it cannot have. But I accept a hard scripture and think about what it might mean and not about what it cannot mean.

  15. Fr. Bill   |  Sunday, 28 October 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Sue,

    If I do not have the mind of Christ on this passage, neither does the Church for 2000 years, and it would seem the Holy Spirit has waited that long to show you what He really meant when He inspired Paul to write these words.

    The hubris of egalitarians is breathtaking.

  16. Sue   |  Sunday, 28 October 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Well, it isn’t my fault that no one has ever proven that authority really means submission in the Greek language.

  17. Anna   |  Monday, 26 November 2007 at 8:20 am

    Cultural breakdown that women cut their hair? I think it is more of a breakdown of the Christian body when a woman’s hair becomes a point of debate. What of those women whom God did not bless with “glory”? Not all women have hair that flows or grows into long thick tresses, and some have no hair at all (genetically).

  18. Fr. Bill   |  Monday, 26 November 2007 at 10:53 am

    Anna,

    By your estimation, the Christian body was breaking down within 20 years of Jesus’ resurrection, since both hair length and hair covering were points of debate at Corinth, prompting Paul to directly address this issue in 1 Corinthians 11.

    As for hair as a woman’s glory, it is such marginally insofar as few women have “Breck hair,” as you correctly note. On the other hand, Paul’s contention, drawn by observations which anyone can duplicate, is that hair is one of the marks of a woman’s womanliness. It is one of the more elementary signals that she is female, a signal which (unlike her genitals) is for public display. When women begin grooming their hair in ways that invite others to misidentify her as male, that amounts to a profound departure from a culture that uses things like hair-styles to differentiate, even to exaggerate, the distinctions of the sexes.

    Finally, as for women who have no hair on their heads, it’s instructive to compare them with a man with a similar condition. The latter will seem to have adopted an extreme, though permissible, expression of cranial fashion (think Yul Brenner, or Kojack). When Sinead O’Conner or Britney Spears shave their heads, it is instantly recognizable as a repudiation of something ordinarily feminine.

    And, so, the woman who has no head hair for genetic reasons is the same as the woman who has no arms for genetic reasons — she is an obvious departure from normality, inviting compassion. To tell a woman born bald that this is just fine, that there’s no real significance to her condition, not only fails of compassion, it is a lie.

  19. Jane Threlkeld   |  Thursday, 24 April 2008 at 11:54 am

    My goodness! I’m trying to listen to John Piper while I’m reading these comments and responses, and I see that isn’t going to be possible to do. I’m new to this blogger stuff. Quite interesting.

  20. A simple explanation of headcovering - The PuritanBoard   |  Wednesday, 26 November 2008 at 7:46 pm

    […] thought this was good: Hair and Worship by Bill Mouser. __________________ Chris Independent Baptist Michigan […]

  21. Fr. Bill   |  Friday, 28 November 2008 at 10:16 am

    I commend the thread linked immediately above at the Puritan Board. It provides a good example of all the various misreadings of Paul in 1 Cor. 11:1-16, as well as some misapplications (the hair is the covering; the covering should only be worn by wives; or women should be covered only if praying or prophesying; and similar common misreadings).

    The key facts these commenters fail to apprehend is that Paul’s mandate to the Corinthians was counter-cultural at the time it was given. The abundance of evidence we have from that period shows conclusively that in Corinthian culture (indeed, in Greco-Roman culture generally) women put something on their heads as variably as women do today. Greco-Roman culture made no link whatsoever between religious activities and coverings on women’s heads.

    Paul, on the other hand, made this very link and he fastened it very tightly — whether or not women were covered during corporate worship went to the very heart of corporate worship itself. If the purpose of the gathering is God’s glory, then His glory should be manifest and all other glories should be veiled. In practical terms, this comes down to women having a symbol, a manifestation, a tangible badge that the man’s glory and her own glory should be dimmed by some sort of covering.

    Note that the man’s glory (the woman) and the woman’s glory (her hair) remain glories. As glories they are not diminished; but in the corporate worship they are veiled in deference to the unveiled display of God’s glory (the man).

  22. Leigh Ann   |  Thursday, 04 December 2008 at 11:22 am

    What you just posted here, Fr. Bill, just made me realize again the response of the angels in Is. 6 covering themselves in the presence of God. I forget so much.

  23. Eric L.   |  Saturday, 15 August 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you for taking time to expound on the themes of shame and glory — it makes chapter 11 and the larger context so much more clear.
    My wife had a dream from God the other night and things she might be supposed to cover her head. So we’re both looking into it — it’s never crossed my mind before. Your writing has been very helpful.

  24. Fr. Bill   |  Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 4:47 am

    Thank you for dropping by, Eric.

    When I was first exposed to “scholarship” on this passage, it was the atomistic sort — stuff that focused on lexical or syntactical minutae — strewing what seemed like a gazillion options around the table, then stirring them with a stick.

    The modern device of generating “word clouds” as an aid to determining the subject matter of a chunk of text can be useful (it’s not infallible, of course), and it was something like this that showed me the themes of glory and shame that organize Paul’s exposition here. Once you see it, it sort of jumps out at you!

    Should your wife adopt a cover, I would appreciate your sharing her (and your) experiences with the practice. What she (and you) might encounter can vary widely, depending on the spirit of the congregation in which she covers — everything from being ignored entirely to hostility to encouragement. Over the years, I’ve been amazed at what a bit of cloth on a woman’s head can provoke in others. I expect that you too will be amazed should she adopt the practice.

    In our parish, it’s customary (not mandatory) that women cover. Those women who have entered our parish without knowing the custom have usually adopted it after a time, and it’s relatively easy for them to do so, as most every other woman covers.

    Interesting to me is that a couple of women who have adopted the practice as a custom (doing in Rome what all the Romans are doing) tell me that after a time they return to 1 Cor. 11 and find that the passage makes sense as it previously did not, and that they rejoice to find a new and encouraging way to affirm their femininity in the context of worship.

  25. henrybish   |  Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 5:13 pm

    This is superb. I’m not from a tradition that practices it today but glad to know someone is taking the possibility of head coverings seriously. I have attended some Plymouth brethren assemblies and they do it, also two conservative presbyterian denominations in Scotland, where I study, still uphold the practice.

    I think this is a discussion the wider evangelical church is going to need to have at some point. I think the other tenets of complementarianism are still in the process of taking a stronger foothold at the moment, so perhaps in 50yrs we will be ready? I hope someone like Piper or Grudem will change their mind on headcoverings before they die and tell it to the Church. At the moment RC Sproul is the only prominent Reformed leader I know of who believes in headcoverings, but I don’t think he says that much about it.

    On a related note, regarding the context of 1Cor11 being church assembled for worship, I’m not so sure. It does not really specify in the context. This also relates to the debate as to whether 1Cor14 means women should be silent in church since if 1Cor11 is a church setting it indicates otherwise. Here is an excellent article on the subject by Michael Marlowe of bible-researcher.org:

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/women-prophesying.html

    1) I’m inclined to view the ‘prayer and prophesying’ as in a public setting because prophesying would normally be done in the presence of others. Also the whole context is about display and what is communicates, which suggests others are there.

    2) Whether the praying is audible or not is not specified, so a woman praying in a public gathering (like church) silently would still qualify for a headcovering.

    3) This would mean the practice is extended to other settings such as bible study or Huldah prophesying to the men sent by the King. Any kind of public setting where is is appropriate for a woman to pray or prophesy (verbally or not).

    Michael Marlowe who wrote the article I linked to above also has a number of very informative articles on headcoverings. I believe he is of the view that headcoverings should not be limited to church gatherings. I think that is more than the Church can bear at this present time, so I think the first step has to be head coverings in church services.

    I think it says Jesus spoke to the people ‘as they were able to hear’, i.e. not giving too much at once. And didn’t he told his disciples that he had more things to say to them but they were not ready at the present time to hear it? It seems a basic wisdom principle that sometimes to reach a destination you have to go step by step rather than all at once.

  26. Fr. Bill   |  Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 8:38 am

    Thank you, Henry, for your feedback. After a couple of years, this blog continues to get comments, which is hopeful, I suppose. I know that of all the posts at this blog site, this particular blog has garnered over half the hits of the entire site! That is, perhaps, even more hopeful.

    Maybe. You see, you wrote “I think this is a discussion the wider evangelical church is going to need to have at some point. I think the other tenets of complementarianism are still in the process of taking a stronger foothold at the moment, so perhaps in 50yrs we will be ready?”

    I’d disagree with the last sentence, at least in the context of broadly evangelical American Protestantism, which has been in theological decline for a generation now, and is today — at least from where I observe things — past the tipping point toward dissolution into the egalitarian heresy. If “complementarianism” (wretched term!) is taking a stronger foothold somewhere, it’s off my radar. Maybe I should get a better radar?

    What I expect to happen is this: the egalitarian heresy will consolidate its current ascendancy by driving out of its institutions (seminaries, publishing houses, mission boards, denominational structures, and, finally, its congregations) any remaining vestiges of what you’re referring to as complementarianism. Afterwards, evangelicalism will fully and explicitly endorse the divorce and homosexual value of the surrounding culture, insuring the death of its own family culture. Then, and not until then, will isolated pockets within evangelicalism belatedly awaken to the spiritual stench and begin the difficult trek back toward spiritual life and health.

    THAT is when things in the Scripture, long despised and discounted among American evangelicals (such as the headcovering and all the theology of sex that going along with it) may get a fresh consideration.

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